By Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — For $700 a month, 65-year-old Esmeralda Calderon cares for children part-time through a federal community service job that's in jeopardy because of cuts to the proposed federal budget for 2011. It's the only source of income for a woman who has no one to rely on and lives alone in public housing in a gritty Hollywood neighborhood.
Under the Department of Labor's Senior Community Service Employment Program, more than 75,000 elderly Americans living in poverty in all 50 states earn their keep by the slimmest of margins. To qualify, participants must be over 55 and earning less than 125% of the federal poverty level — $13,600 a year.
In the budget bill signed Friday by President Barack Obama, the program was slashed by 45%, from $825 million to $450 million a year. Advocates say it could mean as many as 58,000 fewer jobs if states or national groups are forced to discontinue the program because of the reductions.
For 20 hours a week, Calderon bounces toddlers on her hip, feeds them cereal and cleans up after the at-risk children at downtown Los Angeles' Para Los Ninos, a childcare and educational facility.
"It's harder for people my age who are on our own," said Calderon, in Spanish, clutching the green Starbucks apron she wears to clean. "Unfortunately, other employment opportunities are very hard to find for people my age."
In a bad economy where jobs are hard to come by for young, qualified workers, seniors face serious problems finding gainful employment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, older workers who have lost a job are more likely than any other age group to face very long-term unemployment and remain jobless for 99 weeks or more.
But the budget situation is dire, with the federal government borrowing 43 cents for every dollar it spends, which will lead to economic catastrophe unless federal spending is drastically cut, according Brian Riedl, research fellow in federal budget policy at the Heritage Foundation, a research institute that aims to promote conservative principles. His organization has recommended terminating the program entirely.